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Which of the two is grammatically correct?

  1. The snap election results are in.
  2. The snap-election results are in.

The sentence should refer to the results of an election that was announced suddenly and unexpectedly.

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To me, "snap election results" seems better. I agree with Nigel J that it seems like someone who uses a hyphen in "snap-election results" should also use a hyphen in "general-election results" for consistency, unless the person hyphenates "snap-election" in all contexts (not only when it comes before another noun).

According to Hawking Hyphens in Compound Modifiers, by Joan Ames Magat:

The MLA Style Manual and Guide to Scholarly Publishing [says]: “Use hyphens in . . . compound adjectives before nouns to prevent misreading. . . . Do not use hyphens in familiar unhyphenated compound terms such as social security, high school, and liberal arts, when they appear before nouns as modifiers.”

I would note also that it seems that in general, the hyphenation of attributive "nominals" (in the terminology of the Cambridge Grammar of the English Language, "nominal" refers to a smaller unit than a noun phrase: "the high school", with the determiner "the", is a noun phrase while "high school" without a determiner is a "nominal") is less common than hyphenation of attributive adjective phrases.

(Note: Attributive "nominals" can usually be distinguished from attributive adjective phrases by the application of the same tests that can be used to distinguish attributive nouns from attributive adjectives, like seeing if the phrase can be used as a predicate by itself—"high school" in "high school students" cannot (*"These students are high school")—or if it can be modified by the adverb "very"—"high school" cannot (*"very high school students").)

Compound Modifiers - Writing.com notes that in "noun noun noun" phrases, the first two nouns are usually not hyphenated, even when the phrase has the structure [[noun noun] noun]:

Exception 1: Don’t hyphenate if both elements of the compound modifier are nouns.

  • The ice cream truck is here!
  • John Travolta starred in Saturday Night Fever.

These sentences are easily understood without hyphens.

The Oxford English Dictionary seems to say that "snap" in phrases like "snap election" actually comes from a verb rather than a noun (it wasn't intuitively obvious to me), but in any case, "snap" doesn't quite seem to be an adjective to me and "election" certainly isn't, so the case for hyphenation seems rather weak to me.

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    'General election results' is of course inherently ambiguous, though rarely in need of disambiguation beyond natural context. – Edwin Ashworth Oct 8 '17 at 15:21
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Examples abound that 'general election results' is in current use rather than 'general-election results' so the same would apply for the snap election.

https://www.theguardian.com/politics/ng-interactive/2017/jun/08/live-uk-election-results-in-full-2017

But it is only correct to say pre-election results as one could not say, 'pre election results.'

Hyphens are used in prefixed words (like pre-election) but the tendency nowadays is not to hyphenate compound words, although it is not actually wrong to do so.

https://en.oxforddictionaries.com/punctuation/hyphen

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    Thanks @Nigel J, but what is the grammatical explanation for it? Why do all those authors choose to write it that way? – Martin Oct 8 '17 at 6:27
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    Hyphens are used when they are important for clarity. Otherwise, usually not used. – Xanne Oct 8 '17 at 8:04
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    But 'general election' is a compound whereas 'snap election' is a less coherent pairing, I'd say a fairly tightly bound collocation. The argument from analogy isn't felicitous. I notice you don't mention by-elections. – Edwin Ashworth Oct 8 '17 at 8:30

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